Milestones and Doubt

I think I finished my second pass at the first edit last night. I say “I think” because I’m feeling a tremendous urge to throw out all the rewrites that I’ve completed over the past six weeks or so, and in fact to toss the entire document in my computer’s recycle bin. Which would, technically, put me back in the re-writing process, although more at the even-before-the-starting-point-of-square-one point than at the fixing-what’s-wrong-with-it point.

I’m pretty sure this draft is worse than the first. Tsunamis of doubt about the changes I’ve made are pummeling the coastline of my confidence in this project. I thought last night about how bizarre and awkward it felt writing the necessary changes into the end of the book. Then I thought for even longer about going back and deleting all my new changes and reverting to the first draft I finished with in July. Then I had a drink and consulted with my wife and decided to let the changes breathe for a little while before doing anything drastic (which is probably always a good policy on both counts: consulting with the wife and letting things breathe).

After pondering on it for a night, I’m going to let those changes stand for this pass. I’m going to take one final pass on the story to address my remaining notes and clean up the language, and then it’ll be time to pass it along to some readers. I’m thinking that can be done by the end of January. I’ve missed my goal to have this first edit done by the new year, but given that I had no idea how much time the edit should take in the first place, I’m not unhappy about that.

I recall, now, thinking back at the beginning of this process that I had no idea how to attack it, and I think the process that I blundered into worked … well enough. That would be a process with three legs:

  1. Read the draft, taking notes on major plot points, inconsistencies, character tracking, and anything else that needs fixing.
  2. Rewrite it, smashing the broken bits to pieces and building it back bit by bit. Crowbar in the changes that need to be made and hack out the stuff that’s taking up space.
  3. Read it again, cleaning up language and fixing any lingering errors.

As has been pointed out multiple times on this blarg, I’m hardly an expert, and I don’t know what I’m doing. However, I spent a lot of time hemming and hawing about how I was going to approach this edit, and if I can have this method in mind for the next time I need it, maybe I can save myself a couple days of strife.

So, on Monday, I start on the third leg. I was going to read with a scalpel in hand, but I think after my last post about how bloated the thing has become, I’m actually going to be using a hatchet.


CommiTTmenT (You Don’t Need New Year’s Resolutions)

A few days ago, I posted a roundabout look at New Year’s Resolutions and my general disdain for them. And freely I own that I’m a cynic and a Grinch about lots and lots of things. But I don’t think I’m wrong. Most New Year’s Resolutions fail, right? I mean, you apparently need look no further than any gym. Gyms sell enough memberships in January to keep them in the black for the entire year. Regular gym-goers spend January and February griping about the resolution-makers that clog up the gyms during those months. They go and buy their memberships filled with purpose and zeal. They arrive at the gym without a real plan and mill about, hopping on a treadmill here, a bench-press machine there, and then they go home, feeling good about themselves for getting out of the house. I’ve read ridiculous stories in the last couple of days about sign-up lists of over an hour to get on a treadmill. An HOUR! (Protip: run outside and feel less like a rat on a wheel!)

Of course, by the time March comes around and the realization has dawned that it’s hard making time to go to the gym regularly, and that it takes work and discomfort to make the change they want in their bodies, the herd thins out. Why? I think there are two factors at work.

First is societal pressure. At the New Year, everybody is making resolutions to change his or her life for the better. “New Year, New Me!” And they promise to lose weight, cut back on vices, start working out, save more money, be a better person, and on and on ad nauseam. Problem is, they’re making these resolutions because they’re supposed to. It’s that time of year, after all, and people are going to be asking what your New Year’s resolutions are, and you want to have something good on your ledger. Which is one of the worst reasons to make a decision about changing your life, not to mention, it doesn’t work.

The reason it doesn’t work is the second factor: commitment. Or rather, a lack of it. If you want to make a change in your life, it takes time, and thought, and hard work, and a hell of a lot of sticktoitiveness. You know, “commitment.” The average New Year’s Resolution is made in a haze of misery about the state of a life lived over the previous year. It’s a lament after looking at oneself in the (literal or metaphorical) mirror. It’s born of frustration and disbelief (how did I let things get this way?) because it is based in the moment. But in the self-centered, instantaneous-feedback world of iPads and Twitter and name-your-app-or-device-that-has-I-or-me-or-my in its title, it’s hard for us to think outside of the moment.

Unfortunately, change doesn’t happen in the moment. I look in the mirror and recognize that I didn’t go overnight from 175 pounds up to almost 200. It’s easy to think that the change was sudden, but no, the fact is I worked hard at making myself that way by not fighting against my own momentum for about a year. I’d have to be an idiot to think I could decide on Jan. 1 to lose weight and start turning it around right away. Except that’s exactly what happens. People buy their gym memberships, go dutifully for a few weeks, don’t see the type of radical change they’re looking for and/or expecting IMMEDIATELY, think “fargo it”, and go back to the couch. People decide they’re going to write, and they do so religiously for a few weeks, but then it dawns on them that it’s actually work to write and it takes away time from other things they’d rather do, and it’s over. If you look around, you can find scads of blogs with twenty or fewer posts. They create the blargs, full of that mystical swill that makes us want to share and tell stories and paint pictures with words, and then slowly the gumption peters out and the blargs fall discarded like so many chewed-up tires by the roadside. (I’m painfully aware of this, because the title I wanted for this blog is in use by a woman who created a blog to talk about her pregnancy and wrote all of 2 POSTS back in 2011. Fargo!)

No, change takes commitment. It takes a good, long, hard look at the self — and not just the self we see, but the self we are: the love handles and the laziness and the fact that we can’t climb a flight of stairs without breaking a sweat and the fact that it’s so much easier and more inviting to watch hours of Reality TV reruns than it is to pick up the pen (virtual or otherwise) and create something. It takes a plan of action, not just jumping into the deep end of the pool and hoping for the best. It takes patience and an acknowledgment that it takes time to change your momentum: every step you take toward a new self is a step twice as hard, because you’re fighting against the current of your own bad decisions. The good news is, each step unburdens you just a little bit as you drop the bad momentum and build good momentum. It’s slow going, is all, and it takes commitment to weather the storm.

The point is, you don’t need New Year’s to make a change in your life. Or maybe you do. Ultimately it doesn’t matter when you make the change, the important thing is that you make the change. But don’t make it because you have a glass of champagne in your hands and the balls are dropping.

What’s that? Oh. Ball. The ball (singular) is dropping. Don’t make a change because it’s the time for making changes. Make the change because it’s time for the change to be made, and commit to the work that the change requires.

Happy New Year.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.